Aesthetic sustainability is about rethinking sustainability. About moving away from decomposition and recreation and towards recycling and minimal consumption. Away from viewing products as having a life cycle (birth and death) and towards anti-consumption (or at least minimal consumption) and products that last a lifetime.
The ultimate sustainability must be buying a few, good things that last. But that requires durability, quality, and aesthetics! Which look do you never get tired of? Which shirt would you want to wear again and again, year after year (if it didn’t wear out)?
The definition of an aesthetically sustainable design object (whether this being a dress, a table, a bag, or a bowl) is, to me, an object that has a lasting expression… an object that lasts aesthetically. And a lasting expression makes me think of:
– something constant
– something minimalistic
– an object made of lasting, natural materials (that age with beauty)
– something timeless
Aesthetics concerns beauty and sensuous delight. But what is considered beautiful and delightful? Beauty is in many ways connected to taste – and therefore connected to the ideals of our time, our culture. Connected to trends.
If something is aesthetically sustainable, it contains a lasting harmonic, beauty that is not affected by trends; it applies to general, human, aesthetic rules. If something is aesthetically sustainable, it pleases our senses as well as our fundamental human need to structure what we experience. It has a constant expression; a lasting look.
By general, human, aesthetic rules I mean for example symmetry, proportional harmony, the golden ratio, colour density (i.e. that some colours take up more space than others, and therefore you need to use less of them in order to create a harmonic expression).
A minimalistic or non-complex expression contains a certain aesthetic sustainability as well. The human eye can quickly decode the structure of the object; pay off is quick and simple. And simplicity provides durability. Simple, symmetrical design is aesthetically flexible; in my living room I have four chairs by Danish designer Kai Kristiansen – and they look great in my home’s mixture of “less is more”, piles of books, and colourful, abstract paintings. But they would fit equally as well into an entirely different living room – with pillows, curtains, plants, and dark wallpaper.
Aesthetic sustainability also concerns materials. Materials that age with beauty. Not in a shabby chic kind of way – but in the sense that the object changes with time, when used or weathered (like copper roofs that get their beautiful light green colour with time). Object made from aesthetically sustainable materials provide a beautiful tactile experience that lasts. That makes a lasting impression. And has a grounding effect.
But is aesthetic sustainability only a matter of creating minimalistic, “clean” objects that you never get tired of looking at? Or can an aesthetically sustainable object also be an object that is so complex that you never feel like you are done with it?